Expert Dialogues: CODO Design Interview

CODO header

At Online Courses Review, we love graphic design and its capacity to create a brand’s story through images and text. We especially love design that is doing something wholly unique, creative, and bold. As such, we were blown away when we came across the inimitable CODO Design. CODO’s knack for telling a story is masterful and this is evidenced in their award winning design.

After being astounded by their design, we reached out to them to find out more about what makes CODO’s design so spectacular and to learn more about the ingenuity behind CODO’s production process. The following is an email interview between CODO Design founders Isaac Arthur and Cody Fague.

Let’s start with the basics, what is CODO Design? How did CODO start?

CODO Design is a small branding and web design firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana. We focus on the food and beverage industry, small business and not-for-profits.

Isaac Arthur and Cody Fague founded CODO right after graduating from Herron School of Art and Design in May 2009, based on the belief that we can create better design by directly including our clients in the creative process. We’ve been developing this inclusive process ever since and have been lucky to work on several of Indianapolis’ most loved bars, restaurants, businesses, nonprofits and events.

Bourbon

Why did you decide to go into design? What prompted you to want to become a professional designer?

Isaac: I spent my first year of college majoring in biology and chemistry with the goal of becoming a naturalist or fisheries biologist. I basically wanted to con someone into paying me to hike, camp and fish out West. Unfortunately, chemistry isn’t my strong suit, and after a rough first year in school, I decided to go to Herron and become a designer. Somewhat impetuous, but I had grown up as the “artistic kid” and was just starting to notice beer packaging and gig posters on my own anyway, so I jumped in head first without much more thought than that.

Cody: I just figured design was a way for me to draw, use computers and make money doing it. It was a decision I made when I was pretty young. It was a naive notion at the time, but it panned out to be true, more or less.

Beer

How has the Indianapolis reacted to your design? What is it like being entrepreneurs in the Midwest?

Isaac: People seem to like our work. We’ve been very fortunate to work with some smart people and great companies—some high profile stuff and some not-so-high profile stuff, and people always seem to respond well to it. It’s gotten to the point where colleagues will text me and ask if CODO designed something they saw in the wild. More often than not, we didn’t, but they thought it looked great and that we must have done it. That’s a pretty soft metric, but we’ll take it as a sign that we have a positive reputation.

As far as working in Indiana, Cody and I don’t believe we could’ve done this anywhere else in the world. So much of our business has been built on emailing someone out of the blue and asking to sit down over coffee or beer and talking shop. Whether they’re a popular local brewer or restaurateur, the VP of a 50+ million dollar per year company or a cool small business down the street, everyone in Indiana just defaults to yes. “Yes, I’ll meet with you.” It’s crazy because some of the people we meet with are so busy, they’ve got no business sitting down for what amounts to a sales meeting, but it’s still rare to hear a flat “no.”

Cody: We kind of keep our heads down so it’s really bizarre when students have been stalking us a bit, or when designers we’ve respected for a long, long time compliment us on a project. But everyone has responded really well. It’s pretty encouraging.

4 Birds

What was your graphic design training? Was it mostly through education, hands-on experience, or a mixture of both?

Isaac: My primary education was through Herron School of Art and Design here in Indy. That was compounded with loads of freelance work and a lengthy internship experience while I was in school. I’ve also been reading design books ever since getting into Herron. Design and business books have helped a lot along the way.

Cody: I went to Herron as well. School was huge for me. It helped me mature in a lot of ways. I know Isaac and I connected over our internships, where we got a chance to see how this industry works. We picked up a lot of our opinions on business structure and the design process there. Everything else has just been me doodling or thinking about the world in my free time. That is definitely stuff I would be doing whether I was involved with design or not.

Sitka

I notice that a lot of the work in your portfolio has a bold, high contrast aesthetic with seemingly handmade undertones (I’m thinking about the worn, embolden textures of ink on wood—I especially love the Sitka Salmon boxes!)—are you invested in hand-crafted work? What kind of inspiration do draw upon when working with clients and maintaining your own craft? What is your approach to design?

Isaac: Thanks! We certainly skew toward the letterpress, approachable aesthetic if we’re just speaking to our own personal styles. But our Hands-on Branding process generally mitigates that in client work. We bring the client in at every step of the creative process, from positioning and deep-dive brand strategy to art direction. At one point in the process, they’ll actually physically construct a mood board (big collage) to art direct our team as we move from the discovery / strategy phase into the fun, guitar solo design phase. It just so happens that a lot of the people we work with respond to similar aesthetics and decide to lean that way in their branding.

Cody: We definitely have a “look,” and I think we struggled with that philosophically when we were getting started. The weird thing is, the type of work I enjoy personally doesn’t even really look anything like our work for CODO. I think a big part of our job is to accurately represent our clients, who are often brilliant, warm, affable people working in the Midwest in “artisanal” or “craft” industries. Choose any buzzwords you like. So if CODO has a “style,” it’s a reflection of the type of clients we’ve worked with.

CODO Board

Who are some of your favorite designers, artists, or graphic design resources?

Isaac: For quick visual inspiration, I like design blogs.

For people I look up to, I love small shops here in town and across the country that consistently make smart, compelling design. Places like Official Manufacturing Co., Stitch Design Co., Lodge Design, Helms Workshop, Studio MPLS, Cultivator, PTARMAK and Duffy Partners. ( though, some of these are big agencies )

Outside of design, I’m somewhat obsessed with George Nakashima’s wood working. Most of my wood working projects are just direct ripoffs of his style.

Cody: I love comics. I think Dave McKean and Mike Mignola are really great. It’s easy to dismiss David Carson for a number of reasons but I really dig screwed up, post modern work. Makes me feel feisty.

What is your favorite part of working as a graphic designer?

Isaac: I enjoy the small business we’ve built. I love working with Cody, Mike and Ryan. I love that we get to work on a lot of different projects throughout the year and how involved we are with our clients along the way. I love working with smart clients.

Cody: I love seeing a finished “thing,” whatever it is, out in the wild. Beer packaging or a website or whatever. Seeing the stuff we make out there, finished, and accomplishing exactly what it’s supposed to is a pretty great thing.

Natural Born Juicers

What do you wish you would have known about professional designing that you know now?

Isaac: Oh man. Backup your files. Do it. Right now. Go!

Cody: Why aren’t you backing up your files?

Do you ever use online tutorials or take online classes? Do you see them as a useful tool for learning design?

Isaac: I don’t take online classes because I lack the patience for it. But I’ll often go through an online tutorial to learn a new technique for a project. That’s been beneficial, even going back to my school days.

Cody: Yeah, online resources are pretty much a part of any designer’s repertoire. There are too many little esoteric little things to remember otherwise. And, I haven’t done it, but I think it would be good to brush up on stuff from time to time, whether that’s by taking a class or just reading and researching. Software, color management, stuff like that. Couldn’t hurt.

CODO staff

  All photos courtesy of CODO Design

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